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How often when we look at pictures in an art gallery or view images in various media, we see metaphors for mathematical or scientific entities or relationships. Is it more than the clever patterns of Escher, which most scientists are familiar with? Or can visual images provide a genuine aide to understanding science and mathematics? Further, are there some theoretical entities that can only be understood in visual terms? Recently Roger Penrose in his book: The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, reviewed on The Pantaneto Forum, included copious drawings which enhanced and promoted the understanding of advanced algebraic concepts. Images in mathematics have also been championed by Penrose’s colleague Tristan Needham in his book Visual Complex Analysis (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2001), and in science in general see for example Arthur I Miller: Imagery in Scientific Thought: Creating 20th-Century Physics (MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1987). In Orit Orion’s work, recently on show at the IoP conference Physics 2005, she has taken as examples a diverse set of ideas from mathematics and physics and encapsulated them within her paintings. Explanations in art can sometimes be viewed as meaningless hype, but in this case Orion’s clarity of style comes through as a genuine enhancement of the understanding of mathematics, science – and art.
In Art, Science and Democracy, Lee Smolin accentuates the idea of respect within ethics as a concept, which ties together art, science and democratic ideals. According to Smolin respect for humanity is an important precursor to being able to instigate political change and respect for nature is vital for the advancement and practice of science and art.
Representations of science in the theatre are quite rare; though in recent years there have been some notable examples such as Arcadia by Tom Stoppard and Copenhagen by Michael Frayn. This can only be a good thing for science (and for the theatre), as it places science and scientists within the general cultural framework of society and communicates ideas. In “Science and Theatre” Silvana Barbacci gives a summary of different aspects of science and the lives of scientists as portrayed in the theatre.
Sometimes you read something which seems such an obviously good idea that you wonder why nobody has thought of it before. In “Integrating popular science books into college science teaching”, Lui Lam describes a system where science course students get extra credits towards their degrees if they write book reports based on reading popular science books. Clearly popular science books are not a substitute for course textbooks, but proper integration of popular science books into physics course can be an important educational tool.